The kick that came off the right foot of the tall, lanky Malawian wasn't a particularly good one. It kind of floated and wheezed before bouncing gently a few yards in front of the goalie.
The keeper recognized it for the feeble attempt it was and casually stepped aside to let it slide out of bounds. Only he didn't realize where he was standing because the ball instead dribbled into the net behind him for a goal -- setting off a shriek of excitement from Malawi's corner, while several dozen Mongolians slumped in disappointment.
It was world, if not world-class, soccer yesterday during the semifinals and finals of the first Ambassador's Cup, a 16-team tournament between international communities from across the Washington region. The tournament was Saturday and yesterday at Lewinsville Park in McLean and organized by the State Department Foreign Affairs Recreation Association and McLean Youth Soccer, one of Northern Virginia's largest youth sports groups.
The cores of most of the teams were drawn from embassy personnel, though most also tapped local communities to fill their rosters.
Over the two days, more than 1,000 fans came to see teams from such soccer powerhouses as Italy and Germany battle in sizzling heat against their counterparts from Afghanistan, Kenya, Russia and other lands.
It was a typically diverse Washington area scene yesterday: Players from Mongolia, Malawi, Lithuania and Armenia competed in matches, while fans bought food from Lebanese Taverna and ice cream from the Good Humor man. Off to the side, a German father and son kicked around a soccer ball until the boy ran off to play basketball.
Even though these were embassy teams, there was no agenda to the tournament beyond the good ol' universal desire for a little fun and recreation.
"We're not trying to make this into some grand social statement," said Jeff Lesher of McLean, one of the tournament's organizers. "This is really just about playing soccer and bringing together a diverse community."
Gonchig Seseer, the Bermuda-shorts wearing Mongolian consul general, seconded that sentiment. "All the time we are thinking and writing," he said. "We're here to have some recreation."
Nonetheless, some teams took the tournament more seriously than others. The Lithuanians flew in about half their team from their consulate in Chicago to bolster a small local staff -- and to try to send a message.
"We're trying to convince others that we're not only good in basketball but also in soccer," said Vygaudas Usackas, the Lithuanian ambassador to the United States.
Usackas was the only ambassador to don a jersey for his country -- sort of, at least. Usackas spent the first half of the game cheering shirtless from the sidelines. He got a chance to put on his No. 1 jersey when his team went up 3-0, and he helped finish off a 5-1 triumph over Armenia.
Not that he was about to let it go to the heads of some of the younger players, who were whooping it up after the game.
"Calm down, folks!" he yelled. "We have to win one more."
The Mongolians dressed almost a team's worth of substitutes in sharp black shorts and white shirts. They arrived early and brought more than 50 fans. The reserves gathered under a tent -- not exactly a yurt -- to keep cool on a sizzling, humid day that gave the Malawians a natural advantage.
"These guys are really powerful and really fast," said Zori Sesser, a transplant from the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, as the match got underway. "Mongolians are from a cold country; we perform very poorly" in hot weather.
His words proved prophetic -- they lost 3-1.
The game had its share of tension, as both sides tackled hard and complained about poor officiating. After Mongolia cut the lead to 2-1, a shouting match erupted on the Malawi bench about whose fault the goal was. But the commotion subsided, and soon the bench was all laughs and fun again. These were diplomats, after all.
The Mongolians pronounced themselves pleased with their effort -- they swept three matches Saturday -- but they also showed a little competitive fire after losing.
"Next time we will see," Seseer, the consul general, declared after the game.
Despite defeat, the members of the Mongolian crowd decided to make a day of it. They broke out some watermelon, snapped photos and hung around to watch the other matches.
Lithuania was crowned the Ambassador's Cup champion, winning the final 5-0 over Malawi.
Oh, and the U.S. teams?
Eh, not so good. The three squads won two games among them.
This was soccer.